Forcing Paperwhites

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Winter can become dreary, especially for gardeners who can no longer play in the dirt! Why not bring some early spring indoors by forcing paperwhites?

Forcing a bulb means to cause spring flowering bulbs to flower by other than naturally occurring conditions. The process can be fun and rewarding for novice gardeners and children too. Many spring flowering bulbs can be forced indoors, including daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths.

One of the easiest bulbs to force is the paperwhite, a type of daffodil. This bulb does not require a cold treatment to induce flowering.

The paperwhite, along with many other spring-flowering bulbs, originated in the Mediterranean. The flowers are usually white, although some cultivars have yellow or pinkish cups.

Here’s a fun activity for a gloomy winter day. Place one to two inches of washed gravel or stone in the bottom of a container. The container needs to be three to four inches deep and have no holes (what a great use for all those pots that you would have to drill holes in to use outside!). Next, carefully place paperwhite bulbs, pointed side up, on the bed of rock you just prepared. Then, place more gravel or stones around the bulbs to keep them in place.

You will need to add water to your pot. Add only enough water to bring the level to the base of the bulbs – you want the bulbs to sit on the water, not drown in it! Maintain the water at this height.

Place your pot in a cool location (60 – 65 F) in the house preferably in a window with southern exposure. When the plants begin to bloom, move them out of the sun and into a cool location to help prolong bloom time.

Once the flowers have all finished, you will need to compost the bulbs. Paperwhites are not hardy in our area and would die in cold weather.

Forced paperwhites add a little spring when the air is cold and the scenery is bleak. They make a fun learning project for children and are a nice gift for friends. For more information on forcing paperwhites, reference HIL 8530: Home Forcing of Potted Paperwhite Narcissus (https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-8530.html) or contact our Center at 919-775-5624.